Friday is an off day for the Green Bay Packers, at least in terms of practice. With no on-field work to recap and no players made available to the media, the team instead scheduled Zoom press conferences for the key defensive coaches, including coordinator Mike Pettine and the individual unit coaches.
A common thread between Pettine and outside linebackers coach Mike Smith emerged on Friday as they discussed the team’s top pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Rashan Gary. That theme involves Gary’s excellent offseason work and work ethic, and the two coaches were effusive in their praise of the second-year pro.
Pettine was up first, bringing his usual calm, dry demeanor to the Zoom call. It is clear through his words, however, that Gary has made a positive impression on him this summer. “Rashan’s going to have a big role in what we’re doing,” Pettine said. “How he handled his business when he was not here was tremendously. Very professional, he’s come in and looks great.”
Gary mentioned earlier in the week that he showed up to training camp a bit heavier this year, around 276 pounds, but beat writers have noted that he actually looks leaner. But his work in the offseason was not just devoted to building muscle and chiseling his body. Instead, Pettine said that he was also working on specific aspects of his game that the coaches discussed with him in his exit interview. “His get-off, his pad level, he’s taken that to heart ... he wants to be great and he’s certainly put in the time and effort to get ahead in that.”
Later on in the day, Smith called in from the team facility to weigh in as well, and the high-energy position coach brought that attitude to his videoconference. Smith called Gary “one of the hardest-working guys I’ve ever seen,” noting that he received a text message from Gary after midnight Thursday night asking for three things to work on during Friday’s off day.
This came a few days after Gary used the word “love” multiple times to describe his feelings for Smith, and it seems the feeling is mutual. Smith could not stop raving about Gary’s attitude and approach: He’s meaner than a rattlesnake. Guys like that, they don’t fail,” Smith said. “I can’t be more proud of somebody than him, because he’s gonna be a damn good player.”
The two coaches each weighed in on some of the young players on the edge as well, as the team has been working players like seventh-round pick Jonathan Garvin, Tim Williams, and Randy Ramsey in with some success. “All those guys are solid players,” Pettine said, adding that “that’s a spot where there’s some real good competition.” Smith acknowledged that it was too early to tell how the players’ snaps might shake out, but he said that “any job is open” and that he’s a fan of those young players.
Of course, the position has two veteran anchors in Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, who each recorded double-digit sacks in 2019, each for the first time in his career. But don’t start quoting sack numbers to Mike Smith, who said that evaluating a pass-rusher off of his sack numbers is “one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen.” Instead, he focuses on consistency and pressure rate: “When you look at the total number of pressures and you look at his snaps and you see kind of the pressure percentage, Z led the NFL and Preston wasn’t far off, top ten.”
That was just the start of a lengthy soliloquy that Smith went on about evaluating the position under his charge, which covered well over two minutes. Most of that discussion can be found here, clipped by Ryan Wood of Packersnews.com:
Given the passion and intensity that Smith brings just to the evaluation process, it’s no wonder that his players love playing for him. And it surely helps motivate that group, including the Smith Brothers, to put in the hard work that it takes to make them into the tremendous duo that they have become.
“Their success was always achieved by detailed focus, preparation, planning, and old-fashioned hard work,” Mike said of Za’Darius and Preston. “When those guys get success like that, it shows that it pays off.”
It pays off indeed, and it showed in the Packers’ overall defensive improvement in 2019. Hopefully with more development from Gary and some contributions from a young player or two, this group can be even more impactful in 2020.